Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve

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Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve
FGW Struve.jpg
Von Struve
Born(1793-04-15)15 April 1793
Altona (today part of Hamburg), Duchy of Holstein
Died23 November 1864(1864-11-23) (aged 71)
Nationality Baltic German [1]
CitizenshipDanish, Russian [2]
Alma mater Imperial University of Dorpat
Awards Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1826)
Royal Medal (1827)
Scientific career
Fields astronomy, geodesy

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (Russian: Василий Яковлевич Струве, trans. Vasily Yakovlevich Struve; 15 April 1793 – 23 November [ O.S. 11 November] 1864) was a German-Russian astronomer and geodesist from the famous Struve family. He is best known for studying double stars and for initiating a triangulation survey later named Struve Geodetic Arc in his honor.

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

Astronomer scientist who studies celestial bodies

An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, moons, comets, and galaxies – in either observational or theoretical astronomy. Examples of topics or fields astronomers study include planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Related but distinct subjects like physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole.

The Struve family were a Baltic German noble family of Eastphalian origin and originated in Magdeburg, the family produced five generations of astronomers from the 18th to 20th centuries. Members of the family were also prominent in chemistry, government and diplomacy.



He was born at Altona, Duchy of Holstein (then a part of the Denmark–Norway kingdoms), the son of Jacob Struve (1755–1841). Struve's father moved the family away from the French occupation to Dorpat in Imperial Russia to avoid military service, [3] [4] [5] equipped with Danish passports. [2]

Altona, Hamburg Borough of Hamburg in Germany

Altona is the westernmost urban borough (Bezirk) of the German city state of Hamburg, on the right bank of the Elbe river. From 1640 to 1864 Altona was under the administration of the Danish monarchy and Denmark's only real harbour directly to the North Sea. Altona was an independent city until 1937. In 2016 the population was 270,263.

Duchy of Holstein territory of the Holy Roman Empire and its successors, 1474–1867

The Duchy of Holstein was the northernmost state of the Holy Roman Empire, located in the present German state of Schleswig-Holstein. It was established when King Christian I of Denmark had his County of Holstein-Rendsburg elevated to a duchy by Emperor Frederick III in 1474. Holstein was ruled jointly with the Duchy of Schleswig by members of the Danish House of Oldenburg for its entire existence.

Denmark–Norway personal union in Northern Europe between 1524-1814

Denmark–Norway, also known as the Dano–Norwegian Realm, the Oldenburg Monarchy or the Oldenburg realms, was an early modern multi-national and multi-lingual real union consisting of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Kingdom of Norway, the Duchy of Schleswig, and the Duchy of Holstein. The state also claimed sovereignty over two historical peoples: Wends and Goths. Denmark–Norway had several colonies, namely the Danish Gold Coast, the Nicobar Islands, Serampore, Tharangambadi, and the Danish West Indies.

In 1808 he entered the Imperial University of Dorpat, where he first studied philology, but soon turned his attention to astronomy. From 1813 to 1820, he taught at the university and collected data at the Dorpat Observatory, and in 1820 became a full professor and director of the observatory. His teachings have had a strong effect that is still felt at the university. [3] [4] [5]

Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection between textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics. Philology is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts as well as oral and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning. A person who pursues this kind of study is known as a philologist.

Astronomy natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It applies mathematics, physics, and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets; the phenomena also includes supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, all phenomena that originate outside Earth's atmosphere are within the purview of astronomy. A related but distinct subject is physical cosmology, which is the study of the Universe as a whole.

Struve was occupied with research on double stars and geodesy in Dorpat until 1839, when he founded and became director of the new Pulkovo Observatory near St Petersburg. Among other honors, he won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1826. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in March 1827 and was awarded their Royal Medal the same year. [6] Struve was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1833, and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1834. [7] In 1843 he formally adopted Russian nationality. [8] He retired in 1862 due to failing health. [3] [4] [5]

In observational astronomy, a double star or visual double is a pair of stars that appear close to each other as viewed from Earth, especially with the aid of optical telescopes.

Geodesy The science of the geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravitational field of Earth

Geodesy, is the Earth science of accurately measuring and understanding Earth's geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravitational field. The field also incorporates studies of how these properties change over time and equivalent measurements for other planets. Geodynamical phenomena include crustal motion, tides, and polar motion, which can be studied by designing global and national control networks, applying space and terrestrial techniques, and relying on datums and coordinate systems.

Pulkovo Observatory observatory

The Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory, the principal astronomical observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences, located 19 km south of Saint Petersburg on Pulkovo Heights 75 metres (246 ft) above sea level. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments.

The asteroid 768 Struveana was named jointly in his honour and that of Otto Wilhelm and Karl Hermann Struve and a lunar crater was named for another 3 astronomers of the Struve family: Friedrich Georg Wilhelm, Otto Wilhelm and Otto. [9]

Asteroid Minor planet that is not a comet

Asteroids are minor planets, especially of the inner Solar System. Larger asteroids have also been called planetoids. These terms have historically been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resemble a planet-like disc and was not observed to have characteristics of an active comet such as a tail. As minor planets in the outer Solar System were discovered they were typically found to have volatile-rich surfaces similar to comets. As a result, they were often distinguished from objects found in the main asteroid belt. In this article, the term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System including those co-orbital with Jupiter.

768 Struveana is a minor planet orbiting the Sun. The asteroid was named jointly in honor of Baltic German astronomers Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, Otto Wilhelm von Struve and Karl Hermann Struve.

Otto Wilhelm von Struve Russian astronomer

Otto Wilhelm von Struve was a Baltic German astronomer. In Russian, his name is normally given as Otto Vasil'evich Struve. Together with his father, Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, Otto Wilhelm von Struve is considered a prominent 19th century astronomer who headed the Pulkovo Observatory between 1862 and 1889 and was a leading member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve GW Struve 2.jpg
Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve

Struve's name is best known for his observations of double stars, which he carried on for many years. Although double stars had been studied earlier by William Herschel and John Herschel and Sir James South, Struve outdid any previous efforts. He discovered a very large number of double stars and in 1827 published his double star catalogue Catalogus novus stellarum duplicium. [5]

William Herschel 18th and 19th-century German-born British astronomer and composer

Frederick William Herschel, was a German-born British astronomer, composer and brother of fellow astronomer Caroline Herschel, with whom he worked. Born in the Electorate of Hanover, Herschel followed his father into the Military Band of Hanover, before migrating to Great Britain in 1757 at the age of nineteen.

John Herschel 19th-century English mathematician, astronomer, chemist and photographer

Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1st Baronet was an English polymath, mathematician, astronomer, chemist, inventor, experimental photographer who invented the blueprint, and did botanical work.

Sir James South FRS FRSE PRAS FLS LLD was a British astronomer.

Since most double stars are true binary stars rather than mere optical doubles (as William Herschel had been the first to discover), they orbit around one another's barycenter and slowly change position over the years. Thus Struve made micrometric measurements of 2714 double stars from 1824 to 1837 and published these in his work Stellarum duplicium et multiplicium mensurae micrometricae. [5]

Struve carefully measured the "constant of aberration" in 1843. He was also the first to measure the parallax of a star Vega, although Friedrich Bessel had been the first to measure the parallax of a star (61 Cygni). [5]

In an 1847 work, Etudes d'Astronomie Stellaire: Sur la voie lactee et sur la distance des etoiles fixes, Struve was one of the first astronomers to identify the effects of interstellar extinction (though he provided no mechanism to explain the effect). His estimate of the average rate of visual extinction, 1 mag per kpc, is remarkably close to modern estimates (0.7–1.0 mag per kpc). [5]

He was also interested in geodetic surveying, and in 1831 published Beschreibung der Breitengradmessung in den Ostseeprovinzen Russlands. He initiated the Struve Geodetic Arc, which was a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through ten countries and over 2,820 km, to establish the exact size and shape of the earth. UNESCO listed the chain on its List of World Heritage Sites in Europe in 2005. [10]


Struve was the second of a dynasty of astronomers through five generations. He was the great-grandfather of Otto Struve and the father of Otto Wilhelm von Struve. He was also the grandfather of Hermann Struve, who was Otto Struve's uncle.

In 1815 he married Emilie Wall (1796–1834) in Altona, who bore 12 children, 8 of which survived early childhood. In addition to Otto Wilhelm von Struve, other children were Heinrich Wilhelm von Struve (1822–1908), a prominent chemist, and Bernhard Wilhelm von Struve (1827–1889), who served as a government official in Siberia and later as governor of Astrakhan and Perm. [3] [5]

After his first wife died, he remarried to Johanna Henriette Francisca Bartels (1807–1867), a daughter of the mathematician Martin Bartels, [3] who bore him six more children. The most well-known was Karl de Struve (1835–1907), who served successively as Russian ambassador to Japan, the United States, and the Netherlands. [3] [5]

Bernhard's son Peter Berngardovich Struve (1870–1944) is probably the best known member of the family in Russia. He was one of the first Russian marxists and penned the Manifesto of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party upon its creation in 1898. Even before the party split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Struve left it for the Constitutional Democratic party, which promoted ideas of liberalism. He represented this party at all the pre-revolutionary State Dumas. After the Russian Revolution, he published several striking articles on its causes and joined the White movement. In the governments of Pyotr Wrangel and Denikin he was one of the ministers. During the following three decades, he lived in Paris, while his children were prominent in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. [3]

See also

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  1. Erki Tammiksaar. "Baltic German natural scientists in the science system of the Russian empire". Estonian Institute. Archived from the original on 31 March 2012.
  2. 1 2 A. H. Batten (1988). Resolute and undertaking characters: the lives of Wilhelm and Otto Struve. Dordrecht, Holland: Springer. p. 9. ISBN   978-90-277-2652-0.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 V. K. Abalkin et al. Struve dynasty Archived 14 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine (in Russian), St. Petersburg University
  4. 1 2 3 Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve Archived 3 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A. H. Batten. "The Struves of Pulkovo – A Family of Astronomers". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 71: 345. Bibcode:1977JRASC..71..345B.
  6. "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 22 October 2010.[ permanent dead link ]
  7. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter S" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  8. A. H. Batten (1988). Resolute and undertaking characters: the lives of Wilhelm and Otto Struve. Dordrecht, Holland: Springer. p. 135. ISBN   978-90-277-2652-0.
  9. Lutz D. Schmadel (2003). Dictionary of minor planet names. Springer. p. 73. ISBN   3-540-00238-3.
  10. Struve Geodetic Arc, UNESCO